The town of geniuses lives on for another season when "Eureka" returns tonight at 9:00/8:00c on the Sci Fi Channel. Entering its third season, the comedic hour again shows that a town filled with the smartest thinkers in the world is anything but ordinary. Series star Colin Ferguson, who plays Sheriff Jack Carter, and executive producer Jamie Paglia talked with The Futon Critic's Jim Halterman before they made their Comic-Con appearance this past weekend.
As with most new seasons, changes are afoot with "Eureka." First, Ferguson and Paglia talked about the challenges of keeping a series fresh. From an actor's perspective, Ferguson said, "We just try to stay as honest as we can. And when something smells fowl, we don't let it go. And you just try to stay vigilant, I guess." Paglia added, "From the writer's perspective, we obviously want to continue to grow these characters in new and interesting ways and we consider this to be a character [driven series] first and ideally every episode stands on what's going on with the characters."
One obvious way to keep a series fresh is to bring in new characters. Starting with tonight's season premiere, actress Frances Fisher ("Titanic") joins the series as Eva Thorne, aka "The Fixer," a woman who arrives in Eureka and is bound to shake up the town in a different way than what the town has seen in the past. Paglia explains that the character of Eva is, "a master manipulator and... someone who's come [to Eureka] with a real agenda and a job to do. But she also has a hidden agenda [and] a secret, which is sort of the methodology for this season." Ferguson added that he's very excited about the presence of Fisher's character this season. "The fun thing is that we're not sure what she's doing or why she's there... and that's clear right in the beginning, the first episode. And it gives us a lot to play. She obviously has the authority but she doesn't have the moral authority. And so she finds that a problem as we go through the season."
Besides Fisher, another addition to the series is Ever Carradine ("Women's Murder Club" "Commander-in-Chief") who joins for at least three episodes as Carter's sister, Lexi. Though both Ferguson and Paglia were guarded as to the reason for Lexi arriving in town, Ferguson was able to reveal that Lexi is, "here because she wants to get closer to the family." He beamed at working with Carradine by saying that she "brings such an energy and such a life and she doesn't look dissimilar from my [own] sister so we have this instantly sort of fun cantankerous, you know, irritating each other relationship which we both really enjoy."
Character actor Alan Ruck ("Spin City" "Ferris Bueller's Day Off") also appears in an upcoming episode and there's already a chance his character could return. Paglia mentioned that, "you think [Ruck's character] is going to be a one-off for an episode and now you start thinking about how do we write to get that character back in because he was so great... we're already talking about the potential of a couple of episode ideas that we could bring him back in for."
Besides the new casting for the new season, fans are also anxious to find out where the relationship between Carter and Allison Blake (Salli Richardson) may head. Paglia talked about the course that the Carter/Allison and explained that it's a very well thought out course the characters have taken last season and will take in the new season. "We made a concentrated effort in Season Two to sort of force Carter and Allison apart and... that's a relationship that you want to earn over the course of, hopefully, many seasons." Paglia promises that, "this is the season that we want to start bringing them back together again, closer to the secret that she was keeping about Kevin's connection to the artifacts and trying to solve that with Stark (Ed Quinn)." Paglia didn't forget that there's also the complication of a certain question that was popped to Allison by Spark at the end of Season Two. "So now we do have this [marriage] proposal that is going to have to play out and then you've got the first half of this season where we will be dealing with the answer and how that's going to impact Carter and Allison's relationship as well."
Other storylines that could come down the pike this season include an idea that has been on the backburner for a while. "An episode idea from Season One that we never did that we're talking about - Eureka DNA speed dating. You know, you basically take a little DNA swap and put it in the scanner and people figure out whether or not... those markers line up, if they're a good match for each other."
Paglia also pointed out that "Eureka" plans on paying tribute to their sci-fi predecessors. "We have been doing a lot of homages to some of our favorite kinds of sci-fi concepts in films this season," he explained. "And some of those are heavier in technology than others. We wanted to do an episode that was sort of a personal nod to me, to my Dad who was involved some years back." (Paglia's father was a researcher for 40 years for UCLA) Actually, Paglia pointed out, the fact that research has become a business is part of the explanation for Frances Fisher's character being a presence in Eureka. "We kind of wanted to explore that a little bit [about] the ideal of Eureka--that you bring together all these great minds and let them just sort of work and explore and see what they come up with versus if you come in with a mandate and say now you have to actually produce something and you have to be physically reasonable."
Budgetary concerns have also cropped up with the new season, especially when the season premiere, entitled "Bad to the Drone" pushed the budget beyond its limits. With the addition of a CGI character named Martha, who, Paglia stressed, "had to have moving parts and expressions, moods and if [viewers] don't connect with her on that level it just doesn't work. We built this very expensive $30,000 model that we thought was going to suffice for 50% of the scenes." However, when Art Director Bryan Spicer told them that the prototype wasn't going to work as they'd imagined, Paglia said, "the studio and the network... stepped up and agreed [that] we have this amazing visual effects house and those guys started doing middle mockups of what they would do if they were going to do more three dimensional stuff."
Overall, the "Bad to the Drone" episode, Paglia revealed, "was the biggest episode that we've done since our pilot in terms of the demands on visual effects and budget and we completely blew our budget... by half million dollars." While some producers (and actors) may panic over this budget spending so early in a new season, Paglia and Ferguson both saw the silver lining. Ferguson broke it down by saying "if we sort of stay on budget every single week then you sort of have a not-dissimilar episode every single week. But by going over and then having to amortize the loss over the course of the season, you do get some more character driven stuff." Paglia added that, "ultimately what you are going to see is in the back half of the season that we are going to owe some smaller much more character driven/less visual effect heavy episodes."
Though the writer's strike curtailed the 21-episode order for the third season, Paglia explained that all those episodes would still be coming. Eight episodes will air beginning tonight and then the remaining thirteen episodes will air either later this year or in early 2009, depending on when the Sci Fi Channel is able to fit them into their schedule.
"Eureka" can be seen every Tuesday night starting tonight on the Sci Fi Channel.